Drawing landscapes and trees is challenging for me. I get caught up in the details and wind up with weird results. I’ve known for a while that I need to simplify my approach, but I haven’t been able to figure out how. Then I stumbled across Stephen Travers Art, a YouTube channel with brilliant drawing advice anyone can benefit from.

While you can guess that these scribbles are trees, they don’t really look like trees…

It started with Travers’ video on drawing details. His architectural drawings appear to capture all the detail in the buildings, but a mind-blowing moment in the video (starting at 2:00) shows he is only capturing the impression they make. When he zooms in on the paintings and carvings depicted in a building interior, we see that he is not drawing what’s there. He’s just suggesting it by focusing on what he can see.

He also has videos on how to draw trees, where he points out the necessity of forgetting what we know so we draw realistically. In the past, faced with masses of leaves, I have scribbled foliage out of frustration. While fast, this method results in unnatural looking plants. Knowing the leaves are there has kept me from seeing the plant as a whole. Thanks to Travers’ demos, I have new ideas of how to record trees that has already made a difference in my paintings.

A tiny tree that actually looks like a tree! This painting is three inches tall.

In another video, an observation he makes has explained to me why my shading hasn’t been working. There is actually a difference between a shadow, which is cast by one object onto another, and shade, which is the darker side of an object, the side facing away from the light. We tend to describe the shadow under a tree “shade” when we sit in it, which makes this confusing, but what you call it isn’t important. When shading, I have treated these two lightless areas in the same way. As soon as I watched Travers’ video, I knew he was right. I’d actually noticed this difference myself in the past, but I hadn’t been trying to capture it. My brain was too busy telling me how it must be instead of recording what I was seeing.

Landscapitos: the large one is three inches across.

This is the big lesson I came away with: Draw what you see, not what you know. It’s so basic, it should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. As soon as I start drawing a subject, my brain floods with information about it, and that gets transmitted to my drawing. I’m grateful for artists like Travers who take the time to help me identify the places where my brain is getting in the way.

Drawing buildings is not my thing and I would have passed by Travers’ channel if his video titles hadn’t caught my eye. It was an excellent reminder that art techniques apply to any subject.

What important things have you learned from an unexpected teacher?

4 thoughts on “Architetctural Artist Has Helpful Hints for Drawing Nature”

  1. My dad had a story about an instructor and a classmate he had studio class with. The student always drew in excruciating detail while the teacher always tried getting them to loosen up. Late in the semester the class went outside to do landscapes. Teacher makes rounds, stopping at each student to discuss technique. Works with aforementioned detailer a while, then moves to dad next. Leans in, nods to indicate detailer, growls low next to dad’s ear: “Every. God. Damn. Leaf!”
    Wrightson did a page in Frankenstein that has me saying the same thing…

    1. Detailed drawing is a definite style and it suits some… But I’m in a hurry. And yet, I want thing to look like what they are, not some sloppy scribble. Finding the middle ground has its challenges.

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